County considers collective marijuana garden rules

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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Clark County is preparing to follow the city of Vancouver's lead in adopting zoning rules for collective medical marijuana gardens.

The gardens, approved statewide last year, allow medical marijuana growers to establish community gardens where a maximum of 10 patients may tend a crop of up to 45 plants. But when the law went into place, the county placed a moratorium on its use until June 2013 to review the rules.

Last month, Vancouver set in motion its plans to lift a citywide moratorium and allow gardens in heavy and light industrial zones.

The new zoning comes with some rules, such as restricting hours of operation and prohibiting signs identifying the location. The gardens must also be 1,000 feet away from schools, day care centers, parks, community centers, and other collective gardens. And the city needs to be told where each garden is.

The city is holding a public hearing on the matter at 7 p.m. Dec. 3. at City Hall, 415 W. Sixth St.

Clark County will be a few months behind the city with its zoning requirements, but it's likely the rules will look much the same.

"We thought for the sake of consistency we would follow what they had done," county planner Gordy Euler told the Clark County Planning Commission last week.

Euler also explained the county's role is simply to determine what the zoning restrictions look like.

"We're not looking to permit these, we're not looking to charge a fee," Euler said. "But what (we're asking) is what zone restrictions are we talking about."

For the most part, the county is trying to stay out of the regulation of marijuana.

"Arguably, yes, there are liability issues there," said Clark County Senior Policy Analyst Axel Swanson. "Basically, medical cannabis use is still considered by the federal government to be illegal. If we come up with a system or approach to regulate that, we run a risk because we are working to regulate a use that is still illegal by federal law. The other risk is maintaining this moratorium in perpetuity. We can't do that either."

The county also has concerns over some of the state-set rules on the gardens. Swanson said there is currently no restriction over how quickly patients can rotate in and out of the collective. The county could regulate how that works.

"One of the major policy concerns of that section of the law is the lack of a restriction on how many collectives a patient can belong to or how long they stay in," Swanson said. "Can we regulate that? I think that will be part of the discussion."

County staff plans additional meetings in the coming months with the planning commission and neighborhood associations. There is currently no date set for public hearings.

Clark County commissioners have a work session on the matter scheduled for Nov. 28. They are likely to make a final decision by March.

The results of next week's vote on Initiative 502, which would legalize and tax recreational marijuana use if passed, won't have an impact on medicinal use or gardens in the state.

Erik Hidle: 360-735-4547; http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov; erik.hidle@columbian.com.